December 31, 2008


This time last year we were watching the London fireworks from our bedroom window having heard Big Ben chime in the new year (I was sick then, too, there may be a theme here). I had handed in my notice and had three weeks left at work. We didn’t know where we would be living, except that it would probably be somewhere in this corner of Scotland, if we could find somewhere decent to rent. It’s been eight months since we moved up here – too soon to say if this is just a blip in our lives or the start of a whole new direction. So far, it’s been fun, it’s been beautiful, it’s been cold and it’s been quiet, sometimes too quiet. No real surprises there.

By the time you read this, we’ll be welcoming the new year with a glass of whisky in front of the fire. If we hear Big Ben it will be over the airwaves and the only fireworks will be if I inadvertently put a piece of unseasoned pine onto the grate. We’ve never been big on New Year’s Eve celebrations so we won’t miss all the London hoopla, although we will miss our London friends.

Who knows what 2009 will bring. I know what I’ll be hoping for as I stare into the fire, drawing castles in the air. I hope you have a peaceful or a wild new year, whichever you prefer. And I wish you all also a peaceful and prosperous 2009, assuming that such a thing is possible in these credit crunchy times.


December 30, 2008

So it turns out there is a downside to not spending eight hours a day, five days a week packed into a closed humid office with a load of germ-laden people, coupled with two hours or so a day packed into a closed humid train with a different load of germ-laden people, fun as it was at the time.

It means that, come the Christmas break, your immune system is as naive and innocent as that of some isolated Amazonian tribe. Introducing four small children to such a system – lovely as they are – is akin to conquistadors turning up with cholera-laden blankets: not a good idea. I’m now on either my second bout of two different Norovirus strains, or an unpleasant extension of the first. But fortunately for all concerned we’ve retreated back into our remote fastness where, if nothing else, the cold will see to the germs either directly or by putting me out of my misery first. At the moment, I’m not too bothered which…

But even that may not be certain, for – in one piece of Christmas good news – we arrived back home to find that in our absence our landlord had insulated our loft. The fact that, prior to this, there was no loft insulation at all – unless you count a century’s accumulation of dust – may explain why we’ve been feeling the chill.


December 29, 2008

So it’s the run up to Christmas and I’m walking along with Babymother and the babeling, looking for a place to cross to the road to get to the playground in Duns.

Me: Gosh, this is a busy road. (hey, there had been at least two cars just while we were waiting to cross, AND they were going pretty fast too)

Babymother: *withering look* No it’s not.

She’s been patronising me about that one ever since. Londoners, eh?

Don’t Try this at Home

December 27, 2008

How to survive the Christmas period without putting on an ounce of weight:

Step 1: In the run up to Christmas accept all and any festive snacks, drinks, goodies etc. on offer.

Step 2: On the day itself have a full helping of turkey, ham, stuffing, chipolatas, gravy, plus of course wine, followed up by a couple of helpings of Christmas pud and brandy butter. Don’t bother about the sprouts.

Step 3: On Boxing day, contract Norovirus

Christmas with Bloggers

December 24, 2008

christmas_birdThere will be a short festive hiatus as I am here with babymother & co. I hope you all have a very merry Christmas, or not, as the mood takes you.

All I want for Christmas

December 22, 2008

Regular readers of this blog – and its predecessor – will know that I’ve been talking about getting a new bike for ages now. People who know me will not be surprised that so far, other than looking at a lot of pictures of bikes (mostly underneath chic Copenhageners), I have done nothing about it. The problem is, if I’m going to spend several hundred quid on a new bike, it doesn’t just have to be OK, or better than the old one, I have to love it. And all the bikes I see in shops, however expensive are just … OK. They’ve probably got all sorts of fancy alloys and any number of complicated gear things, and be full of all the latest bike technology but I look at them and think … meh.

The problem is, they’re sort of fat looking. Just as the great god of trousers has decreed that women may have waists, but no hips or hips but not waists, and the great god of car manufacturing has decreed that all cars built after 1985 have to have a rear end like a middle-aged banker in cords, the great god of bicycle design has laid down that all bikes which aren’t mountain bikes have to have fat looking tubes. No doubt there are sound design reasons for this and if you tell me what they are I will probably stick my fingers in my ears and start humming, but it means it just doesn’t look like a proper nice-looking bicycle to me. And the ones that do look like a proper bicycle (i.e. the picture in my head that I have when I think of a bicycle) either cost about a million pounds or are fixies (which may be well trendy and all, but not much good where there are hills) or have three gears and weigh a ton. Would it be sacrilege to put some gears and brakes onto a fixie just because I like the stripped down frame? Probably…

So I keep on looking, and meanwhile I keep on tying the mudguards back onto my bike with cable ties and hoping the rust on the forks is superficial and so far, it’s done me fine. And then, of course, I find the absolute perfect bike, and it doesn’t even come in my size.

Thanks to BikingInLA for the link…

The Darkest Hour

December 21, 2008

Today, at 12:04 precisely, is the winter solstice, so today is the shortest day. Not only that, but the other half has reported a ‘strange blue patch’ in the sky and seeing ‘some sort of a light’. It’s probably a hallucination, but some people believe this is the legendary celestial body ‘the sun’.

From here on in, things can only get – well, brighter.

Until the 21st June, that is.

(more than you ever really needed to know about solstices here)

Disgruntled enough for ya?

December 19, 2008

‘You,’ said the other half, greeting me at the door, ‘are insane.’

It’s hard to argue with him, frankly. But you see, the thing is, I haven’t been on the bike all week, what with one thing and another, and I’d already chickened out of getting the bus home from Bigtown on Wednesday because it was raining and I’d stupidly gone out with neither umbrella nor hat, and the walk from the bus stop is 1 1/2 miles. So, come hell or high water, I’d promised myself I’d at least get the paper on the bike today. And of course today duly arrived complete with high water, or at least persistent wind-blown rain, which is bad enough (hell would at least have the advantage of being warm). But I’m nothing if not stubborn, and despite having second thoughts when I stepped outside and saw the sheets of rain driving across the hillside opposite, and third thoughts when crossing the minor burn that our driveway has become and fourth, fifth and sixth thoughts as the rain penetrated my trousers, my shoes and my socks before I’d gone half a mile, on I went.

It was … unpleasant. For a start, I quickly got to the point where I couldn’t – as I thought – get any wetter, whereupon the rain kept proving me wrong. The wind was blowing it into my face so hard it stung, and the roads were quickly flooded so that on the way back I kept finding bits of me (inside left ankle, anyone) that previously had been merely damp and which – after sailing through a puddle that was deeper than anticipated – soon became drenched. My leather gloves, previously impermeable to most rain, quickly became sodden. My feet were blocks of ice. Only my hat really proved its worth and kept the rain out – you can keep your goretex, waxed cotton is the way to go. And – while I may have to rethink my attitude to waterproof trousers – I’m only doing so if they prove more waterproof than my supposedly waterproof jacket.

Apparently the emotion that most people link with cycling as a mode of transport is joy. Yeah well, not today it wasn’t. Or at least not for me. The other half – while being very sympathetic to my predicament and all – couldn’t stop laughing when I arrived in full-on drowned rat mode at the door.

Hmm. Maybe ‘drowned rat’ could be the answer to my new nickname quest?

What’s in a Name*

December 18, 2008

For a while now, I’ve been suffering from a split identity. When I first started blogging, I adopted the name ‘Disgruntled’. This suited my blog, and to a lesser extent my state of mind, at least during the commuting hours. Over the years, it became less relevant, partly because I grew more contented (and may I say just how much not using the North London Line any more contributed to that) and partly because the word itself seemed to take on different connotations. By ‘disgruntled’ I suppose I had in mind a milder state of disgruntlement, the sort of harrumphing truculence that causes one to fire off letters to the editor, or roll one’s eyes, or mutter audibly beneath one’s breath. But recently I heard a radio article about ‘disgruntled muslims’ turning to suicide bombs. Disgruntled? Surely there was something stronger at work there than mere disgruntlement? But the English language is an elastic thing, and neither interpretation could be said to be exactly wrong.

But there I was, going about the inter-world, innocently commenting on bikes, or pigs, or sunsest, with a name that implied I was one step away from strapping on a belt of explosives. No wonder people sometimes took my remarks the wrong way. Once I started with this blog, I toyed with posting under different names – town mouse, for instance, or city exile. But there’s something a little twee about anything with the word ‘mouse’ in it, and ‘exile’ implied my sojourn here was an unwilling one. And besides, so many people already knew me as disgruntled, not just in blogs but on flickr, on forums and the like. It seemed a little odd to suddenly turn around and call myself something different.

Now I’m sort of half and half. Where I’ve regularly commented in the past, or on WordPress blogs (where I’m logged in and can’t change it), I’m still disgruntled. Other blogs I’m experimenting with ‘town mouse’ again, although I’m still not entirely convinced. Tell me, o readers, what should I do? How should I style myself? What do you do?

*post title and topic shamelessly borrowed from Flaneur ‘don’t call me Brian‘ Brian

More Kindness of Strangers

December 17, 2008

‘Hello,’ says a strange voice on the phone. ‘This may sound odd, but I have found a mobile phone…’ And indeed, not only had she found it but she had dried it out, charged it up, coddled it back to health, and then took the trouble to find out whose it was. It seems that on Friday’s bike ride I had done more than forget my bag, I had also managed to bounce my phone out of my pocket outside her cottage.

Once I’ve been here a bit longer, and they realise I live in a constant trail of dropped gloves, scarves, umbrellas, phones, wallets, bags, notebooks etc., they may just take to leaving all lost property outside our house. It will save a lot of time, in the long run…